Welcome to Barbeque Nation!!
If you are into mouth-watering, "low and slow" BBQ - well, you have come to the right place! Regardless of whether you are a "newbie" simply wanting to know how/where to get started - or a "backyard champ" wanting to improve your skills - or a "pro" competing out there on the BBQ circuit - Barbeque Nation has something just for you...
We go about things just a little bit differently around here. There's no "forum" - therefore, no "bull-loney" to have to wade through... Barbeque Nation is all about "news you can use" - useful information/tips/comments to help make your barbecue experience a much better one. Our mission is to spread the "good news about Que" out to people at all levels of experience and interest!
We also feel we have assembled a wonderful "staff" of guest writers that will help bring a wealth of knowledge and insight regarding BBQ. You just never know who may show up here "at our table" from time to time!
So - pull up a chair, put another log in the firebox - and spend a little time with us as we share some smoke together...
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Pit Masters of the Universe - "Gator Boy"
We are proud to introduce a new segment here at Barbecue Nation entitled "Pit Masters of the Universe". From time to time, we will be interviewing a top pit master and/or competition BBQ team from around the country. We hope our readers will find these interviews insightful, entertaining, and beneficial to their own Queing.
To kick-off this new series, we are happy and honored to have one of the top BBQ teams in the US to join us for our initial interview. Rob "Rub" Bagby & Swamp Boys have been one of THE hottest teams out there on the competition circuit for the past couple of years now. Rob began barbecuing back in 1979 when he was only 17, hosting a party known as "Rob's Backyard BBQ".
Rob was invited to "hang out" with a competition BBQ team in 2003 - and well, the rest has been history. He formed his own team - Swamp Boys - in 2004, finished 4th in the Florida Barbecue Association (FBA) in 2006, 2nd in the FBA in 2007 - and in 2008, Swamp Boys took the FBA Team Of The Year top honors!! Talk about a hot rocket!! As of this writing, Rob's team is also currently ranked #1 by National BBQ Rankings and #2 by The Pickled Pig.
Rob cooks exclusively on Stump's smokers, and is also an authorized Stump's dealer.
So, without further ado, let's give a warm welcome to Rob Bagby!!:
Hoochie: Hey, Rob!! Thanks for stopping by Barbeque Nation!!
Rob: No problem... Thanks for inviting me!
Hoochie: Tell us a little about yourself… How did you get interested in BBQ?
Rob: I have been married 13 years, have a step daughter at the University of Florida, and a 9 year old daughter. I am a 20 year special education junior/senior high school teacher. I used to have a “Rob’s Backyard Barbecue” party every year with my friends, starting when I was 17, and we’d cook pork butts, roast corn, and steamed oysters. At my work, we had an annual fundraiser that was selling chicken quarter dinners. I inherited the duties and changed it over to selling pulled pork by the pound - aka Pork-Fest.
Hoochie: How long have you been professionally competing? And are you as passionate about competing as you were when you began?
Rob: I have been professionally competing in sanctioned contests since July of 2004. I think I am even more passionate about competing now than I was then.
Hoochie: That is great - I think!!... Of course, that means you probably won't be giving other teams a very good opportunity of taking your place as #1 anytime soon, either!! Tell us a little bit about your team...
Rob: As far as the competition side of it goes, I am it. I have learned since I have started competing that I am a control freak, so I go solo and I really enjoy it that way. But there is another side to my team, and that is when I am cooking close to home with the option of vending available. At those contests I am joined by my wife Amy, our friends Robin and Tammy, and Tammy's boyfriend Woody. These guys work great together, and can feed large crowds of people lots of barbecue, making money to help pay for Swamp Boys expenses and entries. And the best thing is they work dirt cheap! I love these guys!
Hoochie: Well, you better be lovin' them, Rob - because I figure they are probably selling a LOT of your barbecue in light of all of your recent awards!! Tell us - what is the most important thing you've learned since you began competing?
Rob: If you want to have a chance to enjoy success, learn to ride the middle of the road in taste.
Hoochie: Okay - so what is the worst piece of advice you received as a new/ young competitor?
Rob: I’d say when someone said “Cook it the way you like it to taste – you’ll be eating most of it anyway.” And that’s fine if you’re just there for the fun and the friendship. But if you compete for a chance to try to win, you need to forget about what you want - and concentrate on pleasing six strangers.
Hoochie: Easier said than done, Rob... But having been out on the competition trail 3 years now, I would certainly have to agree... In your opinion, what is the biggest mistake that a new/young competitor can make?
Rob: Trying to time the food coming off the smoker too close to turn in time. A Cambro or a cooler is your friend.
Hoochie: Been there and done that one, too, Rob... It makes life pretty darn hectic around turn-in time for certain!! Tell us - you have done quite well especially over the past 2 years... And I know with your hectic work and personal life, it must be tough at times to hit the competition trail week end and week out... What drives you to compete?
Rob: I have learned that I have a very competitive side to me that I didn’t know about before barbecue contests. I get a rush out of it and at the same time enjoy the camaraderie and friendships I’ve been able to develop.
Hoochie: What is your most challenging meat category to cook & why?
Rob: Probably chicken. It seems to have a relatively small window of excellence and is pretty easy for me to screw up. The fact that so many teams are great chicken cooks from the beginning makes the challenge even greater for me.
Hoochie: Tell us a little about FBA and their comps – how do they differ from KCBS comps?
Rob: There are three obvious differences in the rules: One hour between turn-ins instead of thirty minutes; minimum of 8 pieces in the box instead of 6; and no garnish allowed – it’s a barbecue contest! Those are the most notable differences, but there are less obvious differences too. Generally speaking, in my experiences, the FBA contests seem to be a little more sociable. We most always have teams that step up and host open community suppers on Friday nights, as well as fantastic community breakfasts Saturday morning. Everyone from the old timers to the first timers are encouraged to attend. We’re a friendly bunch!
Hoochie: That is really great, Rob... Sounds like a tight and great group of folks.... What do you think of the recent trend of candy sweet sauces that the judges seem to prefer?
Rob: I hear complaints about that, and it’s usually coming from judges themselves! Some are getting tired of the barbecue candy they end up judging. I’m sure it’s just part of a cycle, and the scores will eventually push taste more to the middle. Refer back to my response regarding "worst advice"...
Hoochie: Okay, Rob... Time for "Toss Us A Bone"... Throw us a rub/sauce/cooking technique “tip” that might help our readers take their Que to the next level…
Rob: Take your time selecting the best meats you can. You have a much better chance of producing a great finished product if you start with great meat. Befriend your local butcher, build a relationship, and see what they can offer you. It doesn’t need to be financial; it can be as simple as special treatment. In my case, I don’t get any fantastic discounts from them, but I do get the pick of their inventory while searching for the best cuts. I’d much rather have that privilege than an extra twenty-five cents a pound off the sticker price.
Hoochie: It is funny you mention that... I just finished a class with Johnny Trigg and Rod Gray down in Austin a couple of weeks ago... And they spent time on this very subject as well... So it is obviously something you "top dogs" feel is quite important when competing... Thanks!!!
Okay - I have taken a lot of your time, Rob... And we can't thank you enough for spending some time with us... One last question... You and I both smoke on a Stumps... And as noted at the start of this interview, you are also a Stumps dealer... But putting all "special interests" aside, tell us - why do your prefer a Stumps over other types of smokers (stick-burners, pellet poopers, etc)?
Rob: I used to cook on a Lang-style stick burner that I made and I enjoyed it a lot. But the staying up all night part got real old after a year or so. I have also cooked on WSMs, Backwoods, and pellet burners. In my opinion, BY FAR the easiest, most consistent, best tasting food comes out of my Stumps. It doesn’t require special fuel, electricity, or constant supervision. There is nothing to break. It holds a steadier temperature than most home ovens. And did I mention it’s easy to use? I can load the chute with briquettes, tune in the temp to 240*, and 14+ hours later it will still be holding at 240*. So really, why wouldn’t one prefer a Stumps? ☺
Hoochie: No argument here, Rob!! I love my Stumps, too... Rob, our many thanks for "stopping by" and spending a little time with us here at Barbeque Nation. We wish you the very best going forward the remainder of this year. Come out West and cook with us one day!!
Rob: Glad to "stop by"... And good luck to all of you as well!!
(My many thanks to Patio Daddio for his help with the interview questions! - Hoochie)